"We're going to listen," said Sereine.
Anakin raised his eyebrows at her, his hands clasped in a prayer posture at his lips. Rather than refreshing him, an afternoon nap had actually made him dizzy, and he felt more at sea than ever. Had he been correct to trust her? Or had he just delivered the galaxy straight into the hands of a madwoman?
At least some of what was happening bore the stamp of the former Chancellor, someone of whom even Yoda and Master Windu spoke fondly from time to time. Palpatine could hardly back down from the plan he'd laid out in that address. And the Lady was right about one thing. Almost a full day had passed, and not one further life had been lost. At least Anakin could hang onto that.
They had left a very unhappy former Chancellor in Padme's guest room and reconvened over Sereine's kitchen table to discuss strategy. Anakin had pleaded to leave things for tonight, but Sereine had refused.
"We've got to hit him again now, Anakin. We can't give him time to regroup. The more time he has to think, the harder it is for us."
"He's exhausted," he said. "He's slept less than we have. Don't you think that'll make him tougher to grapple with?"
"He's slept some," she said. "You're not the only one who has nightmares. Palpatine's been an on-again, off-again insomniac for years, and he compensates by catching naps in his ready room." She stiffened and gave an impression of the Supreme Chancellor that was so accurate in inflection but so poor in voice that Anakin had to laugh.
"'Don't you dare tell anyone how I keep rested. That by itself is a sackable offense, my dear!'"
Anakin dragged both palms down his face and gave up. "So, we're going to listen. Okay. What the blazes are you talking about?"
"It's exactly what your wife said last night. 'This war represents a failure to listen.' Well, who isn't being heard? Who hasn't been heard from in something like one thousand years?"
"You're kidding. The Sith?"
"We've heard Count Dooku speak for the Separatist systems for five years. The people speak through the Senate. No one has any doubt where the Jedi stand on anything. But who was never listened to?"
"Sereine. Count Dooku was a Sith."
"But he never revealed himself openly as one, or spoke in his own voice. My guess is he didn't think it would go too well for him if he did."
Anakin had a sudden thought. "'I would pour him a brandy and bloody well talk it out,'" he quoted.
"Something the Chancellor said once. About the 'hypothetical' Sith master suddenly walking in the room." Anakin shook his head. "I didn't realize he was talking about himself."
"Anakin, when people feel like they have to fight to be heard, they fight to be heard."
Anakin swallowed. "Or, they just fight."
"I can't believe this has all been senseless destruction. I know Palpatine. I can't believe he would do that. There has to be a reason. I'm going to give him the floor tonight, and I'm going to listen. Are you coming?"
Palpatine agreed to wait for them, although it was drawing late in the evening. "See?" said Sereine as they entered the elevator to the Chancellor's office. "What did I say this afternoon? Respect!"
"About the only respect he's shown anyone in thirteen years," said Anakin. "I can't believe it. I can't understand it. How can he be so good to me for so long, and yet hurt so many innocent people? Does he care about anything at all? I'm just--reeling."
"Then you should use those words when you talk to him."
Anakin raised his eyebrows at her and brought an index finger to his chest. "Me? This is my show tonight?"
"You can ask these questions just as well as I can. You care about him just as much as I do."
The elevator doors opened. Sereine started to walk out, but Anakin held her back. "Wait," he said. He let the doors close and pressed the stop button. "You said Palpatine has nightmares. What are they about?"
"I don't know. All I know is that he dreams repeatedly about something that happened when he was seventeen, and it wasn't good." She thought a moment. "But he was raised by his grandfather, and he did let slip once that his grandfather died when he was seventeen. I always made an assumption about that. But I might have been wrong."
Anakin didn't know what the Chancellor had been expecting, but it obviously wasn't this. His blue eyes darted warily between them in the dim light from his desk lamp.
"I knew it was going to be a shock to you, son, but how else was I going to tell you? When? If I had told you at any other time, what would you have done? What would have happened?"
"But the war was the only reason it would have happened!" Anakin argued. "It's just the way Sereine said this morning. If you had governed responsibly, how could anyone have had anything against you? But look at what you've done! Maybe the Jedi are right. Maybe the Sith are evil. Maybe they can't be any other way."
"Anakin. After thirteen years, what do you think?"
Anakin's voice trembled. "I think...I think that it may all have been an act. I think...I think that maybe none of it was real." He hated the tears that stood in his eyes, but he couldn't stop them. "I think that all the time I had that wonderful friend, perhaps I really had nothing at all. I don't want to think that, but I do."
Palpatine stood up, folding one arm across his voluminous velvet robes, and walked to the window to watch the speeder traffic light the night sky. Anakin looked at Sereine, wiping his eyes, and could not decipher the expression on her face.
"I know you don't want to think that your Jedi mentors could kill a Sith in cold blood, just for being Sith. But perhaps you'd better reconsider that as carefully as you reconsider our friendship." Palpatine didn't turn around.
"Palpatine," Sereine said gently. "How could you do this? Why? Help us understand."
The Sith master turned suddenly from the window with such ferocity that Anakin thought he might ignite his blade and come at them across the desk.
"Help me understand!" he shouted. "Help me understand the morality of subjugating and killing an entire sect for a millenium -- based on the actions of two of its members a thousand years ago! Do you realize that an entire Sith dynasty died out because the Jedi pushed them off of their own home world? The Jedi established a temple on Shadda-Bi-Boran, and they were afraid they'd be exterminated. So they had to leave, and they couldn't live a normal lifespan, and one by one, they died tragically early deaths. It was very nearly the end of us!"
Anakin wrinkled his forehead. "A Sith dynasty?"
Palpatine looked distinguished and regal, silver hair and velvet black robes silhouetted against the jeweled night sky in the surrounding gray of the room.
"Master-apprentice chains, related by blood. Unlike the Jedi, the Sith do allow themselves to form families. There are eight Sith dynasties among the fifty-seven masters since Lord Bane. Mothers and daughters...fathers and sons...grandparents and grandchildren. I am the second master of the eighth Sith dynasty."
"So your master was a relative," Sereine stated.
Palpatine ground his teeth. "I believe that is what I said."
Anakin blanched. "So...so...What you're telling me--" He didn't want to say it or even think it. "What you're telling me is that your relative, your father or mother or uncle or grandparent, taught you this incredible secret--and you killed this person, in their sleep?" He turned to stare at Sereine, thinking, What have we done?
But she wasn't looking at him. Instead she was watching Palpatine, who lowered himself back into his chair with eyes that didn't seem to see them.
"Oh, yes," he said quietly. "I killed Darth Plagueis. I killed him, the same as if I'd shot him. And he was, in fact, asleep."
Sereine stared at Palpatine as if she could memorize every line and crease in his face. "Palpatine..." she began, so gently and compassionately that Anakin could hear tears in her eyes even if he didn't see them.
"What happened to your grandfather?"
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